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What Is Partner Relationship Management? Your Complete Guide

Who will be tomorrow's market leaders? Those who have mastered the art of partnering. Look behind today's largest enterprises, and you'll find a thriving ecosystem of resellers and co-sellers, non-transactional service specialists and implementation partners. These enterprises aren't just selling through partners; they're fundamentally reimagining business-as-usual. What's powering this change? The newest generation of partner relationship management software that can orchestrate the strategic movements of vast partner programs to drive shared growth.  

This partner-led approach is reshaping the trajectory of market leadership. HubSpot notes that 76% of business leaders believe ecosystems will be the main disruptor to business as usual. McKinsey calls it the "single largest economic transformation of human history," noting that ecosystems could drive 30% of the global economy by 2030. 

As Experience Architect, Steve Oates, explains: "You can't ignore the urgency. Once these ecosystems and relationships are forged, there simply won't be room left for late adopters. Or, to put it another way, when the music stops, will your company be the one without a chair to sit in?"   

In this full guide, we cover everything you need to know about harnessing the power of partner relationship management (PRM) to manage partner ecosystems. You'll also find links to in-depth resources and examples of how leading companies are using a PRM to grow faster.  

It's time to embrace a partner-led future. This is how to do it.  

🤔 What is partner relationship management? 

💻 The difference between a CRM and PRM 

📈 Why is partner relationship management important? 

🤝 What types of partners are out there? 

📍 How to find the right partners 

⚒️ PRM software tools and features to look for 

🤩 Meet the future of partner management 

What is partner relationship management (PRM)?  

Partner relationship management (PRM) is a tech-driven strategy for improving the relationship between your company and its business partners. It also refers to partner relationship management software that orchestrates and automates important processes for managing your partners. 

PRM is about nurturing a win-win relationship where both your company and its partners grow together through effective collaboration throughout the full partner lifecycle. This systematic approach to managing partner relations can contribute to increased sales, improved efficiency, and stronger strategic alliances. 

For example, in the tech sector, a software company might partner with local IT service providers to implement its products, using a PRM system to track these partners’ certification levels. A manufacturing firm could use a PRM solution to manage partnerships with distributors and retailers, automating incentives and rebates. Meanwhile, in telecommunications, a company might collaborate with regional vendors to expand its infrastructure deployment, using a PRM to ensure all partners are up-to-date with compliance and safety standards.  

Across these examples, PRM serves as the backbone for maintaining clear communication, aligning goals, and measuring the success of collaborative efforts with partners. We'll go into key PRM functionalities in more detail below, but in general, partner management strategies and software focus on these stages of a partner relationship:  

  • Recruitment: The process begins with identifying and attracting potential partners who are aligned with your company's goals and values. 
  • Enrollment: Interested partners are officially enrolled in your partner program, starting the formal relationship. 
  • Onboarding: New partners go through an onboarding process to sign necessary contracts and documentation, while also familiarizing themselves with your company's products, services, and processes. 
  • Training and enablement: Partners receive training and resources to empower them to effectively market, sell, and service your company's products. 
  • Pipeline management: PRM tools help in managing the sales pipeline for new leads and deals, tracking progress, and orchestrating sales activities for partners. 
  • Demand generation: With a PRM, partners engage in co-selling activities to create interest and leads for your company's products. 
  • Communication: Constant engagement and communication are maintained between you and your partners to ensure ongoing alignment, encourage better performance, and help resolve any issues.  
  • Reward management: Your company incentivizes partners through various rewards and recognition programs to keep them motivated, which can be automated within your PRM. 
  • Planning: Regular partner business planning meetings take place to ensure the partnership is on track to meet its goals, with the PRM tracking performance over time.  
  • Measurement: With advanced data tools, partner performance metrics are continuously measured to gauge the success of your partnership and areas for improvement. 

The shift towards a partner-centric business model powered by a PRM is more than just a strategic choice; it will become increasingly necessary for businesses to meet the challenges and opportunities of the future.   

Impartner CEO, Joe Wang, notes: "In the modern business environment, the difference between market leaders and followers will be defined by their ability to forge robust partnerships. The era of competing solely on individual merit is giving way to a new paradigm where success is a collaborative endeavor." 

In a business world that's increasingly characterized by workforce shortages, the need for diversified and predictable revenue streams, and the need to deliver exceptional customer experiences, a partner-first approach, supported by advanced partner management tools, provides a solution to these challenges and more. 

What is the difference between CRM and PRM?  

Partner relationship management (PRM) and customer relationship management (CRM) platforms serve distinct but complementary functions. Your PRM manages relationships and interactions with your third-party business partners, such as resellers, distributors, and affiliates. It includes tools for partner recruitment, onboarding, training, lead distribution, and performance tracking, and more. In contrast, CRM systems are designed to manage your relationships with customers, handling customer data, sales tracking, customer support, marketing campaigns, and more. The best PRMs are integrated and synched directly with your CRM for total visibility.  

For example, a technology company would leverage both PRM and CRM platforms to improve the efficiency of both partner and customer management. When a lead is generated and entered into the CRM system, it is automatically passed to the PRM to assign it to the appropriate partner based on geographic location or expertise, or vice versa, with partners logging deals in a PRM system that's then synched in the CRM.  

Once the partner closes the deal, the sale is recorded back in the CRM to maintain a comprehensive view of customer interactions and sales performance. This integration ensures that the company can track the entire sales cycle from lead generation to closing, regardless of whether a sale is direct or through a partner, enabling better forecasting, resource allocation, and strategic planning. 

Why is partner relationship management important? Key stats 

As a business leader, you know how rare it is to find a single lever that, when pulled, will deliver 5% or 10% growth. You work hard to find process enhancements that will yield even a 1% or 2% increase in revenue. However, partner relationship management can drastically accelerate revenue and optimize the partner experience at every step of the partner journey. 

We commissioned Forrester Consulting to conduct a Total Economic Impact analysis to examine the cost savings and benefits that companies can expect with Impartner PRM. The in-depth Forrester study found that a composite organization achieved the following PRM benefits: 

  • 296% return on investment over 3 years 
  • Up to 50% increase in partner-sourced deals 
  • $2.4M net value over 3 years 
  • <6 months payback period 
  • Up to 75% reduction in cost per lead 

Further, in our survey of over 300 customers, we found the following partner relationship management stats:  

  • 32.3% increase in revenue in the first year of use alone 
  • 29% decrease in administrative costs in the first year of use  
  • 41% increase in partner engagement, measured by portal usage 
  • 78% of companies say the improved partner experience gives them an advantage over the competition  
  • 75% of companies surveyed said that a PRM gave them a better ability to scale their partner programs  
  • 80% less channel conflict between internal and external teams  
  • 22% more revenue from partners who also use integrated partner marketing tools 
  • 50% better ability for channel account managers (CAMs) to meet their quotas  

⚒️ Dig deeper: Ready to tell your team about the power of a PRM? Learn more about these key stats in our full downloadable guide: "The Business Case for Partner Relationship Management". Then, download Forrester's Total Economic Impact Report here.  

What types of partners are out there?  

If you have a product or service to sell, you’re probably thinking first and foremost about recruiting reselling partners. Building a successful partner program, however, requires more than signing up as many of these transactional partners as possible. A better plan is to think of your partner community as an ecosystem that incorporates many types of partners.  

Where to start? Begin by thinking in terms of the roles that you need partners to help with. This could include every part of the customer journey, including:  

  • Lead generation 
  • Qualification 
  • Sales and deal closing 
  • Delivery and implementation  
  • Support and maintenance 

While many partners provide all of these capabilities, very few are good in all areas. Rather than spending significant energy trying to find those rare partners, you are better off recruiting partners that are best in class in one area or more to cover all of your customer needs.  

There are likely more types of channel partners than you think. A short list can include:  

  • Sales partners, like resellers, agents, and distributors 
  • Referral partners, like industry leaders, affiliates, and influencers 
  • Service providers that manage training, outsourced services, and support 
  • IT specialists, like global system integrators, managed service providers, and implementation specialists 
  • Advisory partners, like consultants, firms, and business consultants 

Even if you do not collaborate with all of these partner types directly, you should at least understand the role and significance they can play in your chosen field. Understanding how each partner works is understanding how value flows in your ecosystem. 

⚒️ Dig deeper: A partner can be any business or individual that collaborates with another, so the definition is vast and always changing. Equip yourself with the knowledge you need by diving into our full guide: "20 Common Types of Channel Partners and How to Find Them". 

How to find the right channel partners for your company 

Once you’ve taken the time to understand your options, it’s time to find the right partners. To start, build a scoresheet for each partner type and match it against your objectives. Your scoresheet should start with a high-level list of criteria — everything from lead generation to implementation to valued-added post-sale services. It should also include a section for scoring additional capabilities that you might need including specialized knowledge and focus, customer influence, market focus, industry expertise, and company size.  

After you have completed this exercise, you can determine what fits your target partner profile. It helps everyone connected to partnering within your company understand your mission and objectives for finding new partners. 

From there, ask yourself: Why would these companies want to partner with you? Can't answer that question? There's more work to do.  

Your partner value proposition should explain all the reasons why partners would want to collaborate with your company. At a minimum, it should outline:  

  • The economics of your partnership, as in how partners will make money with your company and what it will cost them  
  • What kind of support you'll provide for marketing, sales, and technical needs 
  • How you stack up against the competition 
  • How you fit in with other vendors that partners represent in the market 

Sell a product, make a buck. That’s the basic reward model for many ideas sold though partners today. But it’s only a fraction of the economic reason why a partner would want to work with you. 

In addition to immediate financial incentives, partners want to align with companies that help them create new business practices and/or revenue streams. They are also looking for those that create opportunities for them to sell additional ongoing services. 

What attracts potential partners most is the total economic value that surrounds your offerings. How much is possible? Microsoft famously found that for every $1 they earned in revenue, their service-led partners made $7.63, and software-led partners made $10.11. 

While that economic opportunity doesn’t exist for every industry and every company, you’ll benefit from doing the math on what additional revenue and support opportunities your company can generate for your partners.  

⚒️ Dig deeper: We collaborated with PartnerPath and Partnership Leaders in an in-depth research report into the factors that motivate partners to choose a vendor, sell your products or services over others, and grow revenue long-term. Download the full report here.  

Partner relationship management (PRM) software features to look for  

You've recruited partners that can help your organization grow. Build a foundation for success from the start with partner relationship management software that can serve as the digital center of your partner-related tech stack.  

When choosing partner relationship management (PRM) software, look for features that prioritize automation and can directly lead to (and track!) increased revenue. Here’s a detailed look at each essential feature of the best PRM software:

  1. Your admin dashboard
  2. Partner portal
  3. Sales pipeline management
  4. Onboarding, training, and certifications
  5. Performance tracking
  6. Partner business planning
  7. Asset management
  8. Automated partner marketing
  9. Incentives management
  10. Partner tier programs
  11. Partner and solutions marketplaces

Administrative dashboard  

The admin interface acts as the command center for your company's partner management team, offering a comprehensive dashboard from which all the tools of the PRM can be accessed and used. This single pane of glass view streamlines the administrative workload significantly, allowing you to build automations and orchestrate workflows to reduce manual workloads. 

It's here that your partner managers will oversee your entire partner ecosystem, from onboarding new partners to tracking their sales activities and performance metrics. The dashboard is designed to present complex data and insights in a straightforward, actionable format, enabling partner managers to make informed decisions quickly.  

Crucially, a well-designed PRM admin interface is built to be code-free, providing a user-friendly environment that doesn't require technical expertise or your IT team to make changes. This is essential for agility and responsiveness, allowing your partner managers to implement updates, modify content, or launch new campaigns easily. This flexibility ensures that your partner team can evolve at the market's pace and that partners are always supported with the most current materials and information, fostering a dynamic and productive partner network. 

LaToya Lee, Customer Experience Manager at Centrios, explains how she built their partner program from the ground up in four months, with only two non-tech employees.  

"I am the least technical person on my team and my marketing director is as technical as I am.... But it was so incredibly easy for the two of us to develop the portal and program. We were so proud of ourselves. We completely threw out an entire program and rebuilt it in four months." 

A go-to partner portal 

Your partner portal is the front-facing piece of your PRM solution, serving as the primary interface for partners. It's where partners will log in to access resources, manage leads, track sales and incentives, and engage in training and certification programs.  

Your portal needs to be user-friendly and intuitive, allowing partners to find information and perform tasks on demand and with ease. This accessibility is crucial as it directly impacts the efficiency and productivity of your partners, while also reducing manual workloads for your team. 

The administrative side of your PRM will be seamlessly connected to the partner portal to provide real-time updates and information. This connection ensures that the data partners see is current and accurate, whether it's product information, marketing materials, or performance metrics. It also allows for the smooth flow of information from the partner's actions in the portal to the administrative side where you can monitor, analyze, and act on partner performance data.

A well-integrated partner portal is more than just a touchpoint; it's an empowerment tool that can significantly enhance your partners' performance and engagement.  

"Our partners are our extended salesforce, and our partners’ success is our success. We wanted to provide the best partner experience and have everything in one place for them to navigate." 

- Dinara Bakirova, Global Head of Channel Operations at Lookout

Sales pipeline management

Lead distribution and deal registration within your PRM software involves automatically assigning leads to partners based on predefined criteria such as geographical location, expertise, or past performance. Partners can also add updates and register deals directly within the portal. 

This feature ensures that leads are promptly handled by the most suitable partner, increasing conversion rates. Effective lead management tools within your PRM:  

  • Track the progress of partner-related leads and deals
  • Notifies partners and internal teams of changes;
  • Provides visibility into the full sales funnel, enabling better forecasting and resource allocation

As the business world evolves, look for a PRM that can also facilitate complex multi-partner deals. For instance, consider a scenario where a referral partner identifies a potential client and logs it into your PRM to hand off to a value-added reseller who specializes in custom solutions. This VAR may partner with an implementation specialist who the customer wants to manage their deployment process.  

All three partners helped to close that deal—ensure that your PRM correctly attributes the sale to them accordingly.  

“The principal reason why a reseller goes to a manufacturer’s portal is to register a deal. With that clear understanding, we prioritized the deal registration journey in our portal design. Anyone logging into the portal can find a nice, clear and simple user interface with which they can use to get a deal registered quickly and efficiently.”

- Martin Coulthard, Senior Global Director of Digital Customer Experience at Vertiv 

Read how Impartner made it easy for Vertiv to automate their sales processes to drive over $800 million in partner deals in a year.  

Onboarding, training, and certification management  

PRM software can radically streamline the delivery and tracking of your partner training efforts. This must-have feature supports the creation and distribution of onboarding/training content, manages enrollment and attendance, and tracks partner progress and certification completion. It can also automate aspects of the registration process and introduce partners to key contacts and resources. 

For example, a healthcare software company would need to manage the onboarding, training, and ongoing certification of their partners due to the complex and regulated nature of the healthcare industry.  

Using PRM software, the company could create tailored onboarding programs that introduce partners to healthcare-specific regulations, privacy policies, and product functionalities, while also ensuring they sign all required legal documents.  

From there, personalized training modules can be rolled out to ensure that all partners are up-to-date with the latest healthcare guidelines and software updates. Additionally, the PRM system can automate the tracking and management of certification renewals, ensuring partners maintain the required qualifications to sell and implement the software in healthcare settings.  

This hyper-personalized and self-guided approach offered by a PRM not only ensures compliance but also enhances the capability of your partners to effectively meet the needs of your customers. 

"We have partners around the world posting their certification badges. Every morning, I wake up and someone is super excited to have the new certification from AvePoint. That's what I'm most excited about."

- Sam Valme, Senior Director of Channel Experience at AvePoint

Performance tracking  

Generate real-time reports that detail partner sales, activities, and achievements. This functionality allows you to monitor the effectiveness of each partner and identify high performers and areas needing improvement.  

Real-time data helps you make more informed decisions, fostering a proactive approach to managing your partner dynamics. Performance tracking also supports recognition and reward systems, motivating your partners to maximize their output. 

The right PRM empowers you to tell the story behind the data and can drive future partner behaviors. By leveraging data, you can motivate greater performance among partners, prove this performance to your executive teams with ROI-validated metrics, and secure continued investments into your partner programs.   

⚒️ Dig deeper: Discover how you can encourage the highest-performing behaviors among your partners with the power of data.  

Partner business planning  

PRM software allows you to collaborate with your partners to create and track shared business plans. This feature enables both parties to set and monitor progress against specific goals, ensuring alignment in your strategies.  

For instance, a cybersecurity company might leverage their PRM to collaborate with their distribution partners to target emerging markets. They could set specific quarterly sales targets and allocate resources for joint marketing campaigns tailored to different regional threats and compliance requirements.  

This coordinated approach allows both the cybersecurity firm and its partners to align their efforts, track progress in real-time, and adjust strategies dynamically to optimize market penetration and revenue growth.  

By clearly defining targets and milestones, you and your partners can work more collaboratively towards reaching your shared goals. 

Asset management 

On-demand asset management allows you to share marketing materials, updates, and product information with your partners easily. This ensures that all partners have access to the latest resources, maintaining consistency in branding and messaging.  

Common types of content shared through automated content distribution in a PRM include: 

  • Product datasheets: Detailed specifications and features of products to educate partners about new and existing offerings. 
  • Marketing and sales collateral: Brochures, flyers, and promotional videos that partners can use in their marketing and sales teams' efforts. 
  • Onboarding and training materials: Comprehensive guides, training modules, certification resources, and webinar recordings for partners. 
  • Price and discount lists: Updated pricing information and special offers that partners need to quote and negotiate deals accurately. 
  • Customer stories: Real-world examples that partners can use to build credibility and trust with prospective customers. 
  • Regulatory documents: Essential for partners to ensure that their activities align with legal and industry standards. 
  • Company updates: Regular communications about company news, product developments, and strategic directions to keep partners informed and engaged. 
  • Upcoming events: Information about upcoming training sessions, webinars, and conferences, including materials for event promotion and participation preparation. 

By distributing content effectively, you can ensure that partners are well-equipped with up-to-date, relevant information, without the need for manual emails.  

"The content that's important for our strategic alliance partners isn't necessarily the same content that's important for our value-added resellers or our distributors. So, we segment by each of those categories to make sure that the experience is appropriate for each audience."

- Heather Harlos, Senior Director of Global Partner Enablement and Programs at Proofpoint 

Integrated and automated partner marketing 

Your PRM should be a powerhouse for driving leads by connecting seamlessly with automated partner marketing tools. By integrating these tools, partners can benefit from robust demand generation without having to invest excessive time or resources.  

Automation allows for the creation of personalized, targeted marketing campaigns that can be executed on behalf of or with your partners. Whether it's through co-branded microsites, dynamic banner ads, email campaigns, or strategically deployed paid media, these tools ensure that your brand's presence and messaging are consistently amplified across diverse online platforms. 

Your admin dashboard tracks engagement and measures the impact of these initiatives. With the right data, you can easily gauge your partner marketing ROI, making it easier to demonstrate the value of your spend. This integrated and data-driven approach not only fosters partner engagement but also fortifies your brand's market position through coordinated, scalable marketing efforts. 

"Impartner has really been pivotal in changing the way that our partners are able to co-market with us. We're seeing about a 40% quarter over quarter growth when I'm measuring partner engagement, which is fantastic."

- Stephanie Zembal, Sr. Manager Channel Marketing at Palo Alto Networks  

Incentives management  

Ditch the spreadsheets. Incentive management tools automatically calculate rewards and commissions to partners based on predefined rules and performance metrics. This PRM feature encourages partners to align their efforts with the company’s objectives by clearly linking performance to financial rewards.  

Co-op funds and marketing development funds (MDF) allocation tools can also help manage and track the distribution of funds to partners. This tool ensures that your financial resources are used effectively by approving, disbursing, and monitoring the spend, and tracking ROI on these efforts.  

⚒️Dig deeper: Motivating your partner channel sales will take dedicated and ongoing efforts. Find in-depth resources in our posts: "33 Ways to Motivate Partners to Drive Engagement" and "20 Incentives to Power Your Partner Program"! 

Partner tier programs 

Assign partners to different levels or tiers within your partner program based on predefined criteria such as revenue generated, sales targets met, or certifications obtained. Tie these to tiered benefits to motivate your partners by providing clear goals and rewards for advancing to higher tiers. 

With a PRM, you can save time and eliminate manual errors with tiering tools that empower you to: 

  • Show partners their current tier status and benefits, while also clearly sharing what they need to do to reach future partner tiers 
  • Build unique partner tier structures based on program type, region, and other factors 
  • Set start and end dates, as well as evaluation cycles, for partners’ promotions to higher tiers 
  • Easily view how many and which partners belong to each tier, what their previous tier assignment was, and when they changed 

Partner and solutions marketplaces 

Another common PRM tool, partner and solution marketplaces, can be embedded into your company's website to showcase and connect your network of partners with potential customers.

These tools often include advanced search functionalities, allowing customers to filter and select partners based on location, expertise, certification, and other relevant criteria. Essentially, they act as an interactive directory that not only provides detailed information about each partner's offerings but also captures customer inquiries and interests directly in your PRM. 

For example, a manufacturing company could significantly streamline how customers find and engage with local dealers with these tools. Consider a scenario where a customer is searching for precision engineering equipment. They visit the manufacturer's website, use the marketplace tool to locate a local dealer who specializes in this machinery. The tool not only identifies the dealer but also captures the customer's contact information, immediately forwarding it as a lead to the dealer.  

This ensures the customer quickly finds the right dealer fast, while the dealer receives a new business opportunity in real-time, fostering a more efficient and connected sales pipeline. 

Meet the future of partner management  

We're moving beyond the era of solo achievements; the future is all about collaboration and collective success. Partner ecosystems, powered by partner relationship management tools, are driving growth at the world's largest organizations.  

What's powering this change? The newest generation of partner relationship management technologies that can orchestrate the strategic movements of vast partner ecosystems to achieve shared goals, whether that's related to revenue, customer experience, or innovation. 

Future-focused PRM tools, like Impartner, are already building predictive analytics, AI-powered processes, and smart automation into their core capabilities. In the future, you'll be able to manage partners with less work, while driving even more revenue.  

Today, millions of partners in nearly every industry across the globe access Impartner. 

Impartner is the fastest-growing, most award-winning partner management software on the market. Our partner relationship management (PRM) and partner marketing automation (PMA) solutions help companies accelerate revenue and profitability through their indirect sales channels at every partner lifecycle touchpoint. 

From partner training and onboarding to pipeline management, resource sharing, and performance tracking, Impartner handles it all and more with best practices and automation built-in.  

Need to accelerate your partnerships? We’re ready when you are. Click here to take an interactive tour of our product!

About the Author

Trevor Burnett is the Head of Product Marketing at Impartner. Burnett has over 15 years of experience in the partnerships space. Over the years, he has built both technical and business acumen as he's done everything from building partner portals himself to strategizing how to solve partnership problems through technology with hundreds of companies. He's also the host of Impartner's popular MasterClass series, in which he talks about the latest trends and tech in ecosystems.

Profile Photo of Trevor Burnett